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Summary dismissal for misappropriation of company property

June 2012 - Employment. Legal Developments by Norrbom Vinding Law Firm, member of ius laboris.

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Termination of employment
An employee took a photocopier and was summarily dismissed. The summary dismissal was justified, ‎according the Danish High Court.‎
Employers are usually permitted to summarily dismiss employees for material breach of their contract. ‎But does removing the employer’s property constitute material breach if the police do not see it as ‎theft? That was the question in this case.‎
An employee had worked for the same company since 1994 doing handyman services. In the eyes of the ‎employer, he was a loyal employee who always did his best to make an extra effort when needed. But ‎in 2010 the employee removed one of the employer’s photocopiers together with his stepson. He ‎thought the managing director had said that the photocopier was to be discarded.‎
When the manager found out that the employee had taken the photocopier, he immediately ‎confronted the employee. According to the manager, the employee said that the stepson’s employer ‎had paid about EUR 675 for the photocopier – something that the employee subsequently claimed he ‎had never said. The manager felt that the trust had been breached and decided to summarily dismiss ‎the employee. It later turned out that the employee had also taken an unused cartridge worth about ‎EUR 310 together with the photocopier.‎
Not theft, but …‎
The matter was reported to the police, but the prosecution service dropped the case against the ‎employee, saying there was no proof of theft. And since this was not a matter of theft, the employee ‎thought, the summary dismissal was not justified. He therefore brought proceedings against the ‎employer.‎
But to no avail. For the Danish Eastern High Court ruled that the employee was in material breach of his ‎contract by removing the employer’s property. The summary dismissal was therefore justified.‎
Norrbom Vinding notes:
  • that the ruling confirms that employers are justified in summarily dismissing employees for ‎misappropriation of company property; and‎

  • that the deciding factor in the assessment of the proportionality of the remedy is not whether ‎the employee has committed a criminal offence, but whether the employee has acted contrary ‎to his duty.‎
The above does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such
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